Leadership teams tasked with steering institutions into the future often change overnight. Whether folks recognize it or not, the transitional period when the old team heads out and the new team comes in amounts to a potential crisis period for the brand. While much is made of collective identity and cooperative effort there’s no such thing as an organization that thinks – there are only people who think. And when the lever gets pulled to replace the leaders of any organization there’s always a risk of significant discontinuity.
This is a well-known fact, and contracts are often designed to ensure a sufficient period of time is available to pass the torch to the new guys in discussions that bring them up to speed. But this is just one way to deal with the potential problem of radical changes of course that can negatively impact public perception of a brand – to say nothing of its profitability. It’s important to recognize brands as institutions, and thereby to gain access to all the historically attested tools used to anchor institutional values across generations. This is one of the most important functions that human culture performs.
With this in mind we recommend that leadership teams undertake projects to establish their brand culture in lasting ways, with an eye towards building a productive legacy that will outlast their term of employment. This is no vain pastime; brands that undergo frequent changes at the top often come to seem almost schizophrenic, jerking first one way, then another, as each group starts more or less from scratch in attempting to establish its own view of where the brand should be heading, how it should get there, and why. This state of affairs is often compounded by the fact that new leadership teams often bring with them the consulting and creative professionals they feel most comfortable working with. Needless to say, a simple Corporate ID manual and a mission statement are seldom enough to ensure continuity in the expression of identity and value.
In order to minimize the possibility of this kind of ‘institutional drift’ and other problems like ‘mission creep’ we help our clients to anchor the identity and value expressed by their brand using time-tested techniques attested across the world in most cultures. These include:
• Mark Culture – The organization must develop and deploy a coherent and consistent visual identity at all the points where the brand touches its employees, customers and constituents.
• Oral Culture – The organization must create and propagate the stories that it wants the world to hear about its activities. In order to do this effectively, these stories must first of all be true, and of course be presented in archetypal ways with dramatic value that can be readily understood and expressed in a variety of meaningful ways.
• Written Culture – The organization must document its existence, its activities, and its ideals in written form, allowing each successive team (or even generation) to connect the present with the past. This is the only way to effectively steer the way into the future.
• Material Culture – The organization must embody its identity and values in material forms. In some cases this means installations of various kinds, or even museums dedicated to the brand in question. The idea is to make continuity with the past tangible in order to contextualize any vision of the future. Today we have chairpersons and the like who occupy the ‘chair’ or office. In the past kings sat on thrones that were physical embodiments of their commitments and ideals. This enforced continuity of vision in productive ways – no matter who happened to be sitting on the chair.
• Macro-Cultural Integration – The better an organization’s micro-culture is integrated with the greater cultures within which it operates, the better its chances of staying on track. It will thereby contribute to its host culture in ways that build resonance and broader constellations of value. But it will also be less likely to drift away from its core ideals because its connections to the macro-culture will delimit its range of change-actions; the host or macro-culture provides a conservative counter-force to limit imprudent change because it is actually intertwined with the brand in non-arbitrary ways.